US Has Good Cause to Seek Reductions in Contributions to UN

First Phase Digital

March 20, 2017 – At a time when the United Nations is seeking funds to address massive humanitarian crises in Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia, reports that the Trump administration is seeking to cut its funding to the world body by up to half are particularly unwelcome.

The United States is by far the biggest contributor to the UN system, contributing 22 percent to the regular budget and also 28 percent to the peacekeeping budget. That it is a permanent member of the Security Council and that the UN headquarters is hosted in New York City go some way towards the US getting its money’s worth (the economic benefit to New York City from the UN is some $3.3 billion per year).

In truth, the UN is divided into two classes: the veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, and all others, and it is the P5 who rule the roost at UN headquarters. The top jobs are divvied up among the five and they have the power to influence hiring and firing (witness last week’s ‘resignation’ of the secretary-general of ESCWA after angering Washington with a report that said Israeli treatment of Palestinians amounted to apartheid).

As researcher Cedric de Coning recently pointed out in a Twitter post, a fairer system of assessing dues would be for the permanent members of the Council to pay 10 percent each towards the regular budget, which would amount to about $1 billion each – a savings to the US of about $2 billion. Combined, the other four permanent members, Britain, France, China and Russia, pay less than 17%, with the UK and France paying some 6 percent, China, 3 percent and Russia less than two percent.

The UN could also make make life easier for itself and those it serves by imposing mandatory assessments to fund its aid programs, just as it does for the regular budget and the peacekeeping budget. Its dependence on voluntary contributions is not working and when crises emerge, as they constantly do, the UN is hamstrung by lack of money. But the UN also has to improve how it delivers aid and addresses crises. It can do this by continuing to focus on resilience and helping fragile countries increase local capacity.

The UN is vital but it is also a poorly managed bureaucratic labyrinth with some 30 funds, programs and agencies all vying for money and influence and oftentimes operating with overlapping mandates and duplicate efforts, wasting precious resources.

If the UN wants the new US administration to take it seriously then it must get serious about becoming more transparent on how its money is spent and shutting programs that are simply redundant or not working.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related: Despite Inefficiencies, UN is Big Contributor to US Economy

Where do the 41,000 People Working for the UN Secretariat Come From?

As Obama heads to UN, U.S. Debt to World Body Soars to $3 Billion

Replacing Valerie Amos: Political Appointment or Merit Based

Drought an Underlooked Catalyst for Syria Revolt

Trump Could Chair UN Security Council Meeting in April

screenshot-2017-01-04-at-1-03-34-pm

January 4, 2017 –  Donald Trump will have the opportunity to chair a UN Security Council meeting as early as April this year when Washington takes the reins of the 15-nation body.

The Council’s presidency rotates alphabetically among its 15 members and the U.S. did not preside over the Council at all during 2016, having last held the gavel in Dec. 2015.

During each country’s presidency, a high-level meeting is held which is typically chaired by the country’s foreign minister or president.

Barack Obama twice presided over the Security Council, in Sept. 2009 when he chaired a meeting on nuclear disarmament, becoming the first U.S. president to chair a Council meeting, and in Sept. 2014, when the Council passed a resolution on foreign terrorist fighters.

Trump berated the UN last week, calling it “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

“There is such tremendous potential, but it is not living up,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. “When do you see the United Nations solving problems? They don’t. They cause problems.”

“So, if it lives up to the potential, it’s a great thing,” Trump added. “And if it doesn’t, it’s a waste of time and money.”

Of course, Trump may decide to send a signal to the UN by either not attending the high-level meeting in April or by not sending his secretary of state – Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is the nominee.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, Bush himself never presided over a Council meeting when the US was chair, nor did he ever send his secretary of state. The only time a secretary of state attended during Bush’s presidency was when Colin Powell addressed the 15-nation body in Feb. 2003 to deliver what turned out to be faulty evidence to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Trump’s nominee for UN ambassador, NIkki Haley, is expected to be confirmed in the next few weeks and will assume duties after Jan. 20.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related: Russia to Run DPA, US Seeks to Rule Management Dept. Under Guterres

Where do the 41,000 People Working for the UN Secretariat Come From?

As Obama Heads to General Assembly, US Debt to UN Balloons to $3 Billion

UN LGBT Staff Still Fighting for Equal Benefits

Screenshot 2015-09-01 at 2.57.51 PM
Sept. 1, 2015 – In July 2014, Ban Ki-moon issued an administrative directive to extend entitlement benefits to UN employees who are in legally-recognized same-sex unions, not just those from countries where same-sex marriages are legal – which had been the standing UN policy.

While Russia attempted to torpedo Ban’s ruling, the General Assembly’s budget committee voted down Moscow’s draft resolution to overturn the UN chief’s directive in March this year.

But not all UN agencies and programs are following Ban’s ruling – which technically applied only to Secretariat staff – including, crucially, the UN’s pension fund. The fund still only recognize spouses of same-sex partners if they come from one of the 20 countries worldwide that recognize same-sex unions.

“This is something we’re trying very hard to change,” said Hyung Hak Nam in an interview with UN Tribune. Hyung Hak is president of UN-Globe, an advocacy group fighting for equality and non-discrimination for LGBT staff in the UN system and peacekeeping operations.

“This is a huge issue because pension is a key component of any benefits package for any job,” Hyung Hak said, adding that the pension fund, the UN-JSPF, is not following what is in place for most of the UN system – that your same-sex spouse is your legal beneficiary.

“You’re married to someone then you die then your spouse will not be eligible for any spousal benefits, which straight married couples would automatically get without any questions asked,” Hyung Hak said of the current rules governing the UN’s pension fund. “Basically if you are from the right country, for example Spain, they will recognize your marriage but if you’re from Belarus, for example, they will not recognize your same-sex marriage.

Parental leave is another issue where UN-Globe are advocating for change. “It’s basically gendered,” Hyung Hak said. “The mother gets 16 weeks, the father eight weeks, or four [depending on the UN agency].”

“When you have, for example, a gay couple and both are male and they have a baby through surrogacy because of this policy that differentiates between mothers and fathers they would only qualify for the 4 or 8 weeks,” he said. “It’s not in line with the expanding notion of what the family is or the composition of the family.”

Hyung Hak pointed out that this policy also affects single fathers who adopt and that some UN agencies also give longer parental leave to mothers who give birth naturally over those who become parents through surrogacy or adoption.

There are other areas too where LGBT staff face hurdles, Hyung Hak explains.

“Most of the agencies of the UN have a mobility policy, we are expected to be able to serve wherever an organization needs you,” he says, giving the example of Nairobi, Kenya where the UN has its headquarters for Africa.

“It is considered a family duty station. Staff who move there receive an entitlement to move the entire family from New York to Nairobi. Since the Kenyan government won’t give residency visas to same sex-spouses, what a lot of LGBTI staff members are faced with is moving by themselves, or finding other means, such as pretending the same sex spouse is a sibling or a domestic servant” and obtaining the appropriate visa.

He also says that gay staff members who are unable to bring their spouse to duty stations hostile to LGBT people should receive a hardship allowance as staff members receive when they serve in places such as Darfur, Sudan and Afghanistan.

“If a gay staff member has to move to Uganda [where the UN has a regional hub] by himself he’s doing it under conditions of hardship. We want the UN to recognize this. We don’t want the UN the to say Uganda is a family duty station. We want the UN to give credit to the staff member, to get credit for moving to Uganda leaving his family behind. We want the staff member to get credit for having served in a hardship duty station,” Hyung Hak said.

He added that while the UN leadership has been supportive of LGBT issues and LGBT staff praise Ban for his leadership, that when it comes to dealing with member states on issues, for example, visas, the UN could do more.

“You’re dealing with a member state and the UN has always been very cautious in its dealings with member states,” Hyung Hak said.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

NPT Conference Sparks Calls for New Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons

No_nukes_tidyman
May 22, 2015 – The merits of a new treaty banning nuclear weapons have been debated over the past month in UN conference rooms during the five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which ends today in New York.

Among the reasons cited by advocates of a ban are the reluctance of nuclear armed states to meet their disarmament commitments and that nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not banned by treaty, with chemical and biological weapons covered under separate conventions.

But the biggest reason cited is new information on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. “We’re learning more every day as new documents become declassified and made available,” said Thomas Nash, director of the advocacy group Article 36. In some cases he said the research shows that “sheer luck has prevented the detonation of nuclear warheads.”

The growing information about the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons prompted an international conference in Oslo in 2013 on that very issue and concluded:

It is unlikely that any state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in an adequate manner and provide sufficient assistance to those affected… While political circumstances have changed, the destructive potential of nuclear weapons remains.

A follow-up conference in Vienna lead to what has become known as the Humanitarian Pledge, which calls for “effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons and we pledge to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.”

“What’s happening now is that because of this deeper frustration at the lack of progress and the intransigence of countries with nuclear weapons, I think states are saying we’re not going to wait for you, we’re going to move forward on negotiations for a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons even without the nuclear armed states,” Article 36’s Nash said.

So far, 99 countries* have signed on to the pledge, which, as Nash acknowledges, does not outright call for an international treaty banning nuclear weapons but for “effective measures to fill the legal gap” prohibiting these weapons. He said the greatest pushback against the calls for a treaty for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons have come from the UK who have said that it would be “like a referendum on the NPT and that it would basically undermine the NPT.”

“It only undermines the NPT if you see the NPT as something that legitimizes your position on nuclear weapons and the problem is that that is precisely what countries inside the NPT with nuclear weapons see the NPT as,” Nash said. While the NPT prohibits non-nuclear weapons states from acquiring such weapons it also calls for the recognized nuclear powers to disarm – which is not happening.

“They think it’s a great treaty that allows them to keep their nuclear weapons. It gives them special status,” he said, adding that France, the US and the UK are engaged in revisionism arguing that the NPT is not about disarmament, it’s about non-proliferation – even though disarmament is one of the three pillars of the NPT along with non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

While it’s not clear if all of the 99 countries* that have so far signed the Austrian Pledge are in favor of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons or some other steps to fill the “legal gap,” what is clear is that the countries absent from the pledge are the nuclear armed states as well as NATO members and other countries that are in a security alliance with nuclear states.

Alyn Ware, a longtime disarmament campaigner and member of the World Future Council, said the calls for a treaty among like-minded countries for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons are understandable as the nuclear weapons states are not yet prepared to abolish nuclear weapons. Under this scenario, non-nuclear countries would negotiate a treaty without waiting for the nuclear armed states and those countries in nuclear-weapons alliances to join.

“Such a treaty could be concluded quite quickly” he said. “However, a problem is that it would only apply to those countries that join. It would not impact on the policies of the nuclear-armed states and their allies. Another problem with the proposal is that there does not appear to be even a majority of the non-nuclear countries in support. When the proposal was discussed in the United Nations Open Ended Working Group on Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations, a number of non-aligned countries indicated that they would not support a treaty like this that placed new obligations on them, but no additional obligations on the nuclear armed states.”

“Another type of ban treaty, one that might have more impact, would be one banning the use of nuclear weapons as a measure leading towards nuclear disarmament. You could probably capture more of the allied countries, maybe even some of the nuclear weapons states, in such a treaty” he said. “India has already put forward a proposal to the United Nations General Assembly on negotiating a convention to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons. It is a much shorter, and more realizable, step from this position to a ban on use, than it is to jump immediately to a ban on possession.”

Ware pointed out that the global ban on chemical weapons started first with a ban on use, followed by negotiations to achieve the Chemical Weapons Convention banning possession.

But campaigners for an outright ban say it is the only credible option, particularly as the draft final document of the NPT review conference, which has yet to be agreed on, reflects the views of the nuclear weapons states and their allies.

While an earlier draft noted the the growing interest in the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the final draft now refers to a growing interest “among non-nuclear weapons states” in those consequences and raises doubts on other humanitarian concerns.

“It suggests that only non-nuclear-armed states and civil society learned anything about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons over the last three years and argues that it is only the perception of some states that there could be no adequate response to a nuclear weapon detonation,” Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will wrote on Friday about the final draft. “States truly committed to disarmament must say ‘enough is enough’ to the nuclear-armed states. As of writing, 99 states* have endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. The pledge should be the basis for negotiations of a nuclear weapon ban treaty.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

*The Pledge has now been signed by 107 countries

Rwanda and Yemen Among Eight Countries to Lose UNGA Voting Rights

60th plenary meeting of the General Assembly 66th session:
Jan. 26, 2015 – Rwanda and Yemen are among eight countries to have their General Assembly voting rights suspended over non-payment of dues.

These countries have fallen foul of Article 19 of the UN Charter, which states that countries will lose their UNGA vote if their “arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.”

Rwanda completed a two-year stint on the Security Council on Dec. 31, 2014. It is the fifth biggest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations.

Minimum payments of $69,948 from Yemen and $7,636 from Rwanda are required to get their voting privileges back, according to a letter from Ban Ki-moon to the president of the General Assembly. Liberia is also listed in Ban’s letter but he has since informed the GA that Monrovia has made the necessary payment.

Macedonia is also among the countries currently without a General Assembly vote. It will have to make a minimum payment of $24,606.

In total, 12 countries are not in compliance with Article 19, but four of those, including Guinea-Bissau and Somalia, can still vote as the GA decided that inability to pay is beyond their control.

The eight countries currently without a vote in the General Assembly:

1. Yemen
2. Grenada
3. Kyrgyzstan
4. Marshall Islands
5. Rwanda
6. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
7. Tonga
8. Vanuatu

Rwanda has been assessed dues of $54, 271 for 2015 while Yemen’s dues are $271,357 for the year.

UPDATE Jan. 28: Following publication of this story, Rwanda has since made the necessary payment to restore its UNGA vote, a representative of the committee on contributions has informed UN Tribune.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Pope Francis’s Sept. UN Visit Will be Fourth by a Pontiff

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 15.53.26
Jan. 21, 2015  – Pope Francis’s visit to the United Nations in September will be the fourth by a pontiff and comes fifty years after Paul VI became the first pope to address the UN General Assembly.

The Catholic News Agency reported on Sunday that Francis will visit the UN on September 25 and address the assembly.

Sept. 25 is also the opening day of the high-level summit on the post-2015 development agenda when world leaders will agree on goals to replace the MDGs.

The pope is likely to address poverty, the plight of refugees, the persecution of Christians, climate change and religious freedom in his speech before the 193-member assembly. It is not yet clear if he will address the post-2015 summit.

The Vatican, or Holy See as it is know diplomatically, is a non-member observer state of the United Nations, joining the organization in 1964.

The following year, Paul VI became the first pontiff to address the assembly where he called for an end to war. John Paul II visited the UN twice, in 1979 and 1995. In the latter visit he spoke of the growth of unhealthy forms of nationalism. Benedict XVI’s speech in 2008 praised the UN as a defender of human rights but said those rights come from God and no government or religion has a right to limit human rights.

The Vatican’s cachet in diplomatic circles has increased in recent weeks after the White House said that it was instrumental in bringing to a close the 40-year US embargo of Cuba. Pope Francis was the only world leader mentioned by US President Barack Obama in his state of the union address on Tuesday.

Francis will come to New York from DC where he will address a joint session of Congress. From New York, he will travel to Philadelphia.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Day One of UNGA Highlights Global Gender Gap in Politics

image

Brazil’s President Dilma Rouseff Addresses 2012 General Assembly (UN Photo/Marco Castro)

Sept. 23, 2013 –  Only six of the 34 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs that will address the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday are women.

Argentina (Cristina Kirchner), Bangladesh (Sheikh Hasina), Brazil (Dilma Rouseff), Costa Rica (Laura Chinchila), Liberia (Ellen Sirleaf) and Malawi (Joyce Banda) are the countries with female leaders taking the podium on the opening day of the high-level segment.

The less than 20 percent ratio of women to men is pretty much average across the board for female participation in politics with women occupying about 18 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide.

While some European governments, particularly Nordic ones, have up to 40 percent of women members, the continent lags when it comes to female leaders with only Denmark, Germany, Lithuania and Slovenia led by a woman.

Globally, less than 20 governments are headed by a woman. Besides the above, others include Jamaica, South Korea, Thailand and Trinidad & Tobago.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Will Ban Ki-moon’s words be used to bolster US case for strike against Assad?

image

For many months, it has been evident that President Assad and his Government have lost all legitimacy.” – Ban Ki-moon, June 7, 2012

Sept. 5, 2013 – These words from the UN secretary-general could be used in arguments to justify a US strike against targets inside Syria by the United States in the coming weeks.

The UN charter prohibits military action against another member state unless authorized by the Security Council or in self-defense. 

But the US has argued that the Assad government has lost legitimacy, and they have the words of Ban Ki-moon to back them up.

The secretary-general is appointed by the General Assembly at the recommendation of the Security Council and the question of whether he is a secretary or a general is open to interpretation, that’s to say how much weight do his words carry. Here is the UN charter’s vague description of the role of the secretary-general.

As this ASIL article by Kenneth Anderson points out, saying a government has lost legitimacy is a political statement not a legal statement but the US “might go a step further and say that the Assad government is no longer the legitimate, lawful government of Syria, and argue that it uses force not against UN member state ‘Syria,’ but rather against the illegitimate Assad regime and in collective self-defense of the Syrian people.”

While such a claim will be contested, not least by Russia, who could argue that “the Assad government meets essentially all the formal requirements of international law to be the legal government,” a number of countries including the six countries comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council have recognized the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) and the 22-nation Arab League has given Syria’s seat to the SOC, against the objections of Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon. Britain, France, Italy and Spain have also recognized the group as a legitimate representative.

One way around the legitimacy question would be a General Assembly vote on who should represent Syria at the UN, though the US is thought to be unwilling to establish such a precedent should countries unfriendly to Israel consider a similar move in the future with regard to Palestinian representation.

Ban said today in Russia that he has taken “note of the ongoing debate over what course of action should be taken by the international community” regarding the allegations of chemical weapons use and that “all those actions should be taken within the framework of the UN Charter, as a matter of principle.”

– Denis Fitzgerald

photo: UN photo/Eskinder Debebe

FIFA Grant Kosovo Right to Play Friendly Matches

FIFA Grant Kosovo Right to Play Friendly Matches

An Independent Scotland Not Likely to Face Difficulties Joining UN

image

Feb. 11, 2013 – British Prime Minister David Cameron was correct when he said earlier on Monday that an independent Scotland will have to renegotiate its relationship with international bodies but secessionists need not worry about Edinburgh encountering problems joining the UN.

While Kosovo and Palestine see their path to full UN membership blocked in the Security Council by Russia and the United States respectively, there are several examples of newly-independent states getting admitted hassle-free as full United Nations member states.

South Sudan was admitted to the UN on July 9, 2012, a year after it broke from Khartoum. The Czech Republic and Slovakia were both admitted to the UN on Jan 19, 1993, nineteen days after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

Several former Soviet states were also admitted in the early nineties including Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan and Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The former Yugoslav states Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia all joined the UN in 1992 or 1993. Before then, Bangladesh was admitted shortly after its separation from Pakistan. An earlier example is the readmission of Syria after it broke from the then United Arab Republic.

Full membership of the United Nations requires a recommendation from the Security Council and a simple majority vote in the General Assembly.

Barring an unlikely veto from the UK, Edinburgh should not have a problem getting the Security Council’s recommendation and would be expected to easily secure General Assembly approval.

A more troubling scenario for Scotland is whether it would have to renegotiate the 14,000 international treaties the UK has signed.

Denis Fitzgerald